August 25th 2018


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Current policies leave farmers high and dry in drought

CANBERRA OBSERVED Captain and Lieutenant's $444 million munificence

MEDICAL ETHICS Changes to AHPRA's code of conduct would gag doctors

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump delivers for U.S. economy and workers

CHILDREN AND SOCIETY Treating depressed children: How will history judge us?

PRIVACY Big Brother is marketing you

THE FAMILY Humanae Vitae: a prophetic document at 50

SOCIETY AND MORES Novel features of child sexual abuse in our time

EUTHANASIA International expert emphasises palliative care

BIOGRAPHY The trouble with Harry (Freame) is that we've forgotten him

OPINION Just asking ... sauce for the goose ...?

HISTORY Christianity has died. Agreed, and yet ...

MILITARY HISTORY The volunteering spirit proves best in the test

HUMOUR

MUSIC Chilly exposure: The sound and the fury

CINEMA Mission Impossible: Fallout: Ethan Hunt, knight errant

BOOK REVIEW A good diagnosis enables the cure

BOOK REVIEW End of the American empire?

LETTERS

POETRY

OPINION The Victorian ALP observed from up close

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CANBERRA OBSERVED
Captain and Lieutenant's $444 million munificence


by NW Contributor

News Weekly, August 25, 2018

Every so often governments get a sudden but inexplicable rush of blood to the head that results in a political decision that bypasses the usual administrative and public service checks and balances.

Kevin Rudd famously did this when he agreed to a $40 billion plus plan for the national broadband network (NBN) that, according to political legend, was written on the back of a beer coaster on a VIP flight after a discussion with former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

No business case, no carefully thought-out policy or consideration of potential pitfalls; just a blank cheque that taxpayers are still picking up the tab for almost a decade later.

And so it was during this year’s budget, when Malcolm Turnbull and Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg apparently jointly and very rapidly agreed to spend almost half a billion dollars to help “save the Great Barrier Reef”.

In their defence, the Great Barrier Reef is a bottomless ocean for taxpayer-funded causes. Successive state and federal governments have poured an unquantifiable amount of money into research and projects to prevent the threats to the reef from climate change, pollution, the crown-of-thorns starfish, sediment run-off, plastic, over fishing and all the rest.

But the ongoing cry from environmentalists is always that more money needs to be urgently provided.

Coalition governments rarely receive any credit for the funding they provide, even though it was the Fraser government that established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in the first place, as well as giving it World Heritage listing.

And woe betide a scientist who dares to question environmentalists’ exaggerated claims about the dangers for the reef. One such is James Cook University professor Peter Ridd, who lost his job because of his public criticisms of the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

In the May Budget, the Turnbull government announced $444 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef – the biggest single grant in its long history of grants.

The funds were awarded to a private charity – the Great Barrier Reef Foundation – which has just six staff but which has a range of corporate backers that reads like a who’s who of big business in Australia.

In the past, the foundation has raised tens of millions of dollars for the reef from public companies and private donors.

However, the Turnbull Government has been under fire because the funding proposal was not put out to competitive tender and the process around allocating the money has not been properly explained.

The thinking behind the Turnbull-Frydenberg decision was to leverage the might of corporate Australia into the reef effort.

Mr Turnbull has since described the Great Barrier Reef Foundation as a “highly respected philanthropic organisation”, which he expected would bring further funding beyond the Government’s generosity.

The funding for the Great Barrier Reef Foundation was to go towards improving water quality, reef restoration, an expansion of the fight against the crown-of-thorns starfish, community engagement especially with “indigenous knowledge for sea country management”, and reef monitoring.

According to reports, the grant came as something of a shock to the foundation, which had not initially applied for any funds, and was offered to the chairman, John Schubert, at a meeting with just Mr Turnbull and Mr Frydenberg on April 9.

Mr Frydenberg now says “extensive due diligence” was done and that his department had confirmed that the organisation was the best available to undertake the work.

Part of the problem with the unusual grant is that it has caused sour grapes with other groups who missed out on funding.

But the unusual process, including paying the fund a lump sum upfront, the absence of a tender process, and the fact that it took just 11 days from the Expenditure Review Committee decision to spend the money and the allocation to the foundation, is causing ongoing problems for the Government.

Labor frontbencher Tony Burke had previously given money to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, albeit on a much smaller scale.

“The reason why this organisation was chosen is there’s an urgent need to deal with the reef,” Mr Frydenberg said. “This is the single largest reef conservation project and commitment in Australia’s history.”

Clearly, by giving the foundation the money upfront, the can-do Prime Minister was thinking that the can-do business organisation could move rapidly to take action immediately on implementing programs to fix problems with the reef.

Unfortunately, because of the unorthodox funding and the jealousy of environmental groups that missed out, spending almost half a billion on a “good news for the environment” project is turning out to be bad news for the Government.

Not to mention a constituency that is surely in greater need than a marine park and that may turn pricklier even than a crown-of-thorns starfish: the struggling farmers who were the recipients of less than half the amount that has been disbursed with big smiles on research of at best dubious value.




























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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm